Forty-seven years and 1,000 wins later, Clayton girls basketball coach David Sanders keeps on going.
The 74-year-old Sanders is a retired physical education teacher, but is coaching again in his first season as the head coach at Clayton — saying he just wanted to coach, though he could’ve taught there.
Sanders — who coaches varsity, junior varsity and eighth grade — got the 1,000th win of his career on Nov. 28 against Caney.
He is one of the most successful high school basketball coaches in state history with six state championships — three with Cheyenne girls, and three more with Stigler girls — and said he always wanted to be a coach.
“Ever since the seventh grade, I wanted to be a coach,” Sanders said. “I played in a real good boys program when I was growing up, and I had a really good coach (Ace Sahmaunt). I used to have a stuttering problem and his wife (Sue) was the English teacher. He told me, he said, ‘David, if you want to coach, you’re going to have to overcome your stuttering problem, and his wife helped me a bunch.”
Sanders graduated in 1962 from Elgin, where he was a point guard. His job was to move the ball up the floor to the post player. Sanders said he could shoot, but was told he’d be replaced if he didn’t do his assigned duties as a point guard.
As a baseball player, he played third base and was a right-handed pitcher, throwing a fastball and curveball. He later played baseball at Central State College (now the University of Central Oklahoma). Sanders later transferred to and graduated from Oklahoma State University, but did not play baseball or basketball there.
He told the story of how he and a couple others met with Toby Greene, the Oklahoma State baseball coach who, in 1959, led the team to its only College World Series win. Sanders said Greene asked how many of the three were all-staters. The other two were. Greene then turned to Sanders, who said he was an alternate. Greene talked to the other two, and left Sanders behind.
“My heart dropped to my toes because he wouldn’t even give me a chance,” Sanders said.
He also told a story of his sophomore year in high school when he threw a no-hitter despite walking five batters.
“I’m coming off the mound, and my high school coach (Sahmaunt) was getting on me for walking five,” he said. “When I walked out to get picked up, my dad (Clyde) said, ‘David, I’ve never seen you walk five guys in your life.’ I’m thinking, ‘I just threw a no-hitter and I’m getting chewed out by my coach and my dad for walking five.’”
Sanders has coached for 47 years, dating back to the 1960s at Union City. He was briefly on hiatus working with a friend of his at a John Deere location in Dodge City, Kan.
He said he hated it, and got his inspiration to return to what he loves from an elder man who talked to him.
“We were trying to sell him farm equipment, and after I talked to him, he asked me, he said, ‘What else did you do besides this?’” Sanders said. “I told him coaching. He said, ‘Well, son, you need to get back in coaching because that’s where your love is. I can just tell.’”
Sanders has coached baseball in addition to basketball. He later switched to coaching only girls because of his daughters. Sanders was a state runner-up in basketball in 1982 at Custer City. The superintendent who hired Sanders at Custer City took the same position at Cheyenne, and Sanders followed suit.
His tenure at Cheyenne was from 1982-1987. He led the team to three straight Class A state championships in 1985, 1986 and 1987 — crediting the mental toughness of his players.
Sanders said his goal at Cheyenne was preparing for the next year. That’s what he did after he won at state.
“It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do in high school, the hardest, is to be a state champion,” he said. “You got to put in the hours, stay out of injuries.”
That 1987 team went 30-0, becoming the second girls basketball team ever to win three straight state titles after Byng from 1936-1938.
Cheyenne went 88-4 during that three-peat, and those four losses were by a combined five points.
One of the players he coached was Jodi Fisher (Chalfant.) Fisher scored 121 points in the 1986 state tournament, 279 points in her career at the state tournament, and went on to play college basketball at Oklahoma State — where she went with them to the 1991 Sweet 16.
Sanders moved to Stigler, serving as a baseball and girls basketball coach. Sanders said he was a baseball coach his first eight years at Stigler. He almost had a three-peat in girls hoops there, too. Sanders was a Class 3A state champion in 1990 and 1991. They could have won again in 1992 with returning players, but he lost a few to knee surgery. The third one with Stigler did come in 1995, and he is still searching for that seventh state title two decades later, where certain elements of him have remained the same.
“I still got that burning desire to win, and I hate to lose,” Sanders said. “That’s never left me. Ever...I think more of the losses than I do the wins. My state runner-ups...I burned those films where I wouldn’t have to watch them.”
He said he still isn’t over Stigler’s 1988 loss to Jay in the state final, where the Pantherettes lost on a buzzer beater 3-pointer, a shot that Sanders said he could still see all these years later.
Sanders also coached in Texas and was there a couple of times. He took a brief hiatus from coaching before moving back to Oklahoma and coaching again at Clayton. His teams in Texas went 34-2 five times, but didn’t get to the state tournament as only four teams could qualify in Texas, calling it tough to get the state tournament there, where he used to think it was a piece of cake to get there before Texas.
Clayton got off to winning nine of its first 12 games, including a ranked spot in Class A. Still, Sanders said the team lacks mental toughness and confidence in themselves.
“They’ve never had this type of coaching before, it was a shock to them,” he said. “I know them. They don’t know me.”
He said his players at Clayton didn’t know about his 1,000th win until a week later when he told them, much to their shock.
Sanders said some of his former players at Stigler keep track of his wins, and called to congratulate him on the honor. He still keeps in contact with Sahmaunt, who is now in his 90s and wrote Sanders a five-page letter after the Cheyenne three-peat.
The most joyous thing he gets out of coaching is seeing kids accomplish that they think they couldn’t.
He said he goes to work and doesn’t boast, and is merely looking ahead.
“If I won my 800th game, all I worried about was 801, After I won my 1,000th, all I worried about was 1,001,” Sanders said.
As far as for how much longer he will keep coaching, Sanders had a simple answer.
“Until it stops being fun,” he said.